git bisect squared

git bisect is a really powerful tool to find the first commit that introduced a regression. By supplying a know good point (e.g. “two weeks ago”) and a known bad commit (usually HEAD), it will do a binary search by asking you to test the midpoint or by running a script you provide.

Today was one of the days I got to use git bisect. We started seeing an error being written to the console – nothing serious, but we knew it wasn’t there last week. After testing six commits the culprit was found. I ran git show to look at the commit expecting to be able to quickly see the mistake. However, the commit message for this commit was “Miscellaneous”, and then a list of (unrelated) changes that were done based on feedback for a code review 1.

Right. So this was a hodgepodge of mostly unrelated changes and it was not apparent what could cause the debug message we saw. I started to wish it was possible to bisect the changes of a single commit.

Then, suddenly, an epiphany! By using git add -p to add one set of changes at a time, and then using git stash --keep-index I could easily run the test after adding one and one change 2. The bug – which was quite subtle – was quickly found. (Of course, if the regression was caused by changes that interacted, it would not have been this easy, but this was not one of these days. :)


  1. I do not approve of this practice. :-)

  2. The entire workflow is 1) git add -p, 2) git stash --keep-index, 3) run the test, 4) git stash pop, 5) goto 1

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